For a parish church, tucked away in a quiet corner of Leicester, St. Mary de Castro has a surprising number of connections to some of the most famous people in English history, including Geoffrey Chaucer, King Henry VI, and King Richard III.
It’s foundation dates to the 12th century when it was founded by Robert de Beaufort, a man who fought for William the Conqueror in 1066.
For those interested in the history of the building, I wrote about it here.
Geoffrey Chaucer was a 14th century poet and diplomat, famous for his many works in
English when at the time Latin and French were more popular.
We are lucky to know a lot about Geoffrey’s life, as he was a public figure and it was well documented.
One of his most famous works is The Canterbury Tales, a group of 24 stories as told by a group of pilgrims travelling to the shrine of St. Thomas Becket.
He was born in London in 1343 to a family with a background as wine merchants. At the age of 14, he became a page to Elizabeth de Burgh, the Countess of Ulster.
Elizabeth was married to Lionel, Duke of Clarence, one of the sons of Edward III, and this was the young Chaucer’s early introduction to court life. He went on to be a civil servant close to the King between 1389 and 1391.
In 1359 during the siege of Reims within the Hundred Years’ War, Chaucer, who had traveled with the Duke of Clarence was captured and ransomed for £16, approximately £5800 in today’s money.
7 years later in 1366, he married Philippa de Roet who was a lady in waiting to the Queen, Philippa of Hainault. It is thought that they went on to have 4 children together.
It is believed that they married at St. Mary de Castro.
Chaucer’s great great grandson, John de la Pole, Earl of Lincoln was Richard III’s nephew, born to his sister Elizabeth, the Duchess of Suffolk ( but that is another story 🙂
After his marriage, it is thought that he studied at the Inner Temple in London and went on to join the royal court of Edward III.
Over the next few years, Chaucer was very well traveled, visiting Picardy, Genoa, Florence
Chaucer spent the next few years in London, and it is thought he wrote many of his works during this time. If he had been in London during the Peasant’s Revolt, he would have seen them entering through Aldgate, where he had an apartment.
He spent time in Kent as an commissioner of peace and a Member of Parliament in the 1380’s, and also used this time to write the Canterbury Tales. His later career was as the Clerk of the King’s Works, and it is thought that during his watch, repairs were undertaken at Westminster Palace and St. George’s Chapel at Windsor
By the close of the 1390’s, Chaucer had finished the Canterbury Tales, and his name faded from the records, coinciding with the overthrow of Richard II by Henry IV. He was gifted an annual pension and died in ca. October 1400
He rests today in Poet’s Corner, Westminster Abbey, and holds the title of the first writer to be interred in what would become a national place of honour for the nation’s writers.
“Remember in the forms of speech comes change
Within a thousand years, and words that then
Were well esteemed, seem foolish now and strange;
And yet they spake them so, time and again,
And thrived in love as well as any men;
And so to win their loves in sundry days,
In sundry lands there are as many ways.”
GEOFFREY CHAUCER, Troilus and Cressida